Picture: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva via AP
JOHANNESBURG - Both Brian Molefe, the then chief executive of Eskom, and more recently Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota rendered a spectacular public display of emotion during two separate contentious discussions: that of the State Capture Report, and the debate around land expropriation without compensation.

But this is hardly the intention of the growing call for vulnerable leadership.

The likes of Peter Bregman, trusted US adviser to top chief executives and management teams, draws a clear link between emotional courage and great leadership. If business leaders could muster this, we may just start seeing the birth of a growing culture of vulnerability in the workplace.

And without intentional vulnerability from the top brass, the growing condition of loneliness cannot be mitigated effectively. No longer an "old person’s condition", loneliness has infiltrated schools and universities, where our millennials are struggling to feel connected. And the workplace has certainly not escaped unscathed.

Even in South Africa, which is renowned for its strong culture of family and social connectedness, loneliness has become a cause for concern, confirms medical doctor Garth Japhet.

We’re becoming more and more isolated due to factors like rapid urbanisation, crime and a history of social displacement, says Japhet, who’s had a part in promoting public health for the past 25 years through the creation and development of the social awareness soapie, Soul City. He also shares startling statistics on loneliness from the US, like the fact that it increases the risk of early death by 45 percent.

Workers who are lonely tend to under-perform, are more likely to quit, and are generally disenchanted with their jobs. This is said to present employers with an annual bill that exceeds £2.5 billion (R43.18bn) in the UK alone.

Minister of Loneliness

This high incidence of loneliness has in fact led to the appointment of a Minister of Loneliness, to mitigate the devastating effects of this chronic condition.

The World Economic Forum recently identified these as the skills of the future: creativity, critical thinking and emotional intelligence. And what better lever for leaders to use than vulnerability, to underscore their level of emotional intelligence? It’s the ideal mitigator.

Bregman highlights emotional courage as the driving force behind anything significant that leaders achieve. And he encourages leaders to allow themselves to feel, but then to be strategic and intentional about when and how to express those feelings.

Vulnerable leaders are in tune with their emotions, and tend to successfully create environments conducive for growth and learning.

Sheryl Sandberg and Starbucks’s Howard Schultz have seen the subsequent sense of connectedness in their respective teams, after having shown their vulnerable side - Sandberg through her book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, and Schultz through a heartfelt speech to his staff. Leaders who show vulnerability foster transparency, trust and accountability.

In South Africa, where a strong culture of patriarchy still reigns supreme, vulnerability among especially male leaders is generally neither talked about nor encouraged. Yet, it’s a tool that holds tremendous power for leaders to build stronger teams by demonstrating the need for authenticity in the workplace. It gives leaders a licence to ask for help and admit to shortcomings; and it elicits forgiveness from employees when leaders need it most.

Catherine Milward-Bridges is a director at The Air Quotes Project.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.